California "Anti-Coolie" Act of 1862

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California "Anti-Coolie" Act of 1862


By: State of California

Date: April 26, 1862

Source: California "Anti-Coolie" Act of 1862. State of California.

About the Author: The "Anti-Coolie" Act of 1862 was passed by the state legislature of California and signed by Governor Leland Stanford.


California was the site for the largest concentration of Chinese immigrants to the United States from the early 1850s through the end of the nineteenth century. Drawn to the Gold Rush, Chinese immigrants from Canton, aware of the United States through American Christian missionaries, immigrated to the west coast of the United States to work in gold mines; the Chinese referred to America as Gam Saan, or "Gold Mountain." By 1851 more than 25,000 Chinese immigrants were settled on the west coast, with the goal of spending as little as possible, saving their money, and returning home to China to live well.

Once in California after surviving the ocean voyage, Chinese immigrants seemed alien to white Americans with their basket hats made of woven bamboo, fur-lined coats, knee-length trousers, Chinese accents (when they spoke any English), different facial features, and completely different culture. In mining towns small supportive industries, such as stores, brothels, and taverns, relied on miners' expenditures; Chinese immigrants often brought their own rice and food with them, and spent very little if any on vices. Business owners viewed their frugality with contempt, and as the gold dried up, Chinese immigrants faced harsher discrimination by being forced to work older mines, accept lower wages than white counterparts, and began to experience racial violence from white Americans.

The "coolies," a term for an unskilled Chinese or Asian immigrant that is derived from a Hindi word but later became an ethnic slur, worked on the transcontinental railroad as mining jobs disappeared. Paid less than other workers, Chinese workers were found by railroad crew supervisors to be hard-working and dependable. At the same time, white workers were threatened by the Chinese, and alarmed at their growing numbers. An 1850 Miner's Foreign Tax Law in California had charged non-native miners an extra tax, and in 1862 the California legislature passed a similar measure, the "Anti-Coolie" Act.


An Act To Protect Free White Labor Against Competition With Chinese Coolie Labor, And To Discourage The Immigration Of The Chinese Into The State Of California April 26, 1862

The People of the State of California, represented in Senate and Assembly, do enact as follows:

SECTION 1. There is hereby levied on each person, male and female, of the Mongolian race, of the age of eighteen years and upwards, residing in this State, except such as shall, under laws now existing, or which may hereafter be enacted, take out licenses to work in the mines, or to prosecute some kind of business, a monthly capitation tax of two dollars and fifty cents, which tax shall be known as the Chinese Police Tax; provided, That all Mongolians exclusively engaged in the production and manufacture of the following articles shall be exempt from the provisions of this Act, viz: sugar, rice, coffee, tea …

SECTION 4. The Collector shall collect the Chinese police tax, provided for in this Act, from all person refusing to pay such tax, and sell the same at public auction, by giving notice by proclamation one hour previous to such sale; and shall deliver the property, together with a bill of sale thereof, to the person agreeing to pay, and paying, the highest thereof, which delivery and bill of sale shall transfer to such person a good and sufficient title to the property. And after deducing the tax and necessary expenses incurred by reason of such refusal, seizure, and sale of property, the Collector shall return the surplus of the proceeds of the sale, if any, to the person whose property was sold; provided, That should any person, liable to pay the tax imposed in this Act, in any county in this State, escape into any other County, with the intention to evade the payment of such tax, then, and in that event, it shall be lawful for the Collector, when he shall collect Chinese police taxes, as provided for in this section, shall deliver to each of the persons paying such taxes a police tax receipt, with the blanks properly filled; provided, further, That any Mongolian, or Mongolians, may pay the above named tax to the County Treasurer, who is hereby authorized to receipt for the same in the same manner as the Collector. And any Mongolian, so paying said tax to the Treasurer of the County, if paid monthly, shall be entitled to a reduction of twenty percent of said tax. And if paid in advance for the year next ensuing, such Mongolian, or Mongolians, shall be entitled to a reduction of thirty-three and one third percent on said tax. But in all cases where the County Treasurer receipts for said tax yearly in advance, he shall do it by issuing for each month separately; and any Mongolian who shall exhibit a County Treasurer's receipt, as above provided, to the Collector for the month for which said receipt was given.

SECTION 5. Any person charged with the collection of Chinese police taxes, who shall give any receipt other than the one prescribed in this Act, or receive money for such taxes without giving the necessary receipt therefor, or who shall insert more than one name in any receipt, shall be guilty of a felony, and, upon conviction thereof, shall be fined in a sum not exceeding one thousand dollars, and be imprisoned in the State Prison for a period not exceeding one year.

SECTION 6. Any Tax Collector who shall sell, or cause to be sold, any police tax receipt, with the date of the sale left blank, or which shall not be dated and signed, and blanks filled with ink, by the Controller, Auditor, and Tax Collector, and any person who shall make any alteration, or cause the same to be made, in any police tax receipt, shall be deemed guilty of a felony, and, on conviction thereof, shall be fined in a sum not exceeding one thousand dollars, and imprisoned in the State prison for a period not exceeding 2 years; and the police tax receipt so sold, with blank date, or which shall not be signed and dated, and blanks filled with ink, as aforesaid, or which shall have been altered, shall be received in evidence in any Court of competent jurisdiction.

SECTION 7. Any person or company who shall hire persons liable to pay the Chinese police tax shall be held responsible for the payment of the tax due from each person so hired; and no employer shall be released from this liability on the ground that the employee in indebted to him (the employer), and the Collector may proceed against any such employer in the same manner as he might against the original party owing the taxes. The Collector shall have power to require any person or company believed to be indebted to, or to have any money, gold dust, or property of any kind, belonging to any person liable for police taxes, or in which such person is interested, in his or their possession, or under his or their control, to answer, under oath, as to such indebtedness, or the possession of such money, gold dust, or other property. In case a party is indebted, or has possession or control of any moneys, gold dust, or other property, as aforesaid, of such person liable for police taxes, he may collect from such party the amount of such taxes, and may require the delivery of such money, gold dust, or other property, as aforesaid; and in all cases the receipt of the Collector to said party shall be a complete bar to any demand made against said party, or his legal representatives, for the amounts of money, gold dust, or property, embraced therein.

SECTION 8. The Collector shall receive for his service, in collecting police taxes, twenty percent of all moneys which he shall collect from persons owing such taxes. All of the residue, after deducting the percentage of the Collector, forty percent shall be paid into the County Treasury, for the use of the State, forty percent into the general County Fund, for the use of the County, and the remaining twenty percent into the School Fund, for the benefit of schools within the County; provided, That in counties where the Tax Collector receives a specific salary, he shall not be required to pay the percentage allowed for collecting the police tax into the County Treasury, but shall be allowed to retain the same for his own use and benefit; provided, That where he shall collect the police tax by Deputy, the percentage shall go to the Deputy …

SECTION 10. It is hereby made the duty of the various officers charged with the execution of the provisions of this Act, to carry out said provisions by themselves of Deputies; and for the faithful performance of their said duties in the premises, they shall be liable on their official bonds, respectively. The Treasurer of the respective counties shall make their statements and settlements under this Act with the Controller of State, at the same time and in the same manner they make their settlements under the general Revenue Act.

SECTION 11. This Act shall take effect and be in force from and after the first day of May, next ensuing.


The 1862 law taxed all Chinese immigrant workers who were from the "Mongolian" race, adding a $2.50 work permit fee per month to Chinese immigrants. As work on the Central Pacific Railroad heated up in San Francisco, and labor was needed for laying track, the work permit tax was an onerous financial burden, but did not prevent Chinese laborers from finding work.

As Chinese immigration picked up in the 1850s and 1860s on the west coast, Irish immigration increased dramatically on the east coast; in the 1840s Irish immigrants comprised more than half of all immigrants to the United States, and between 1820 and 1930 more than 4.5 million Irish immigrated to the United States. Chinese and Irish immigrants worked side by side on the railroads; once the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869, railroad development continued, but the United States and Europe entered into an economic depression that, combined with the end of the Civil War and issues with Reconstruction, led to severe unemployment in the United States. Prejudice turned to violence against Chinese immigrants in California, Denver, and Oregon in the 1870s.

In 1882 the U.S. Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, signed by President Chester A. Arthur. The act placed severe limits on Chinese immigration, limiting legal immigration to 100 Chinese immigrants per year. The act stripped Chinese immigrants of the right to bring Chinese wives to the United States, and later versions of the law removed their right to act as a witness at a trial. The 1882 law, the first piece of immigration legislation in the United States to target a specific immigrant group, set the tone for the next sixty years for Chinese immigrants. California's "Anti-Coolie" of twenty years earlier was the first of such legislation aimed at curtailing Chinese immigration in the United States, though certainly not the last law of its kind.



Gyory, Andrew. Closing the Gate: Race, Politics, and the Chinese Exclusion Act. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998.

Lee, Erika. At America's Gates: Chinese Immigration during the Exclusion Era, 1882–1943. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.

Wong, K. Scott, and Sucheng Chan, eds. Claiming America: Constructing Chinese American Identities during the Exclusion Era. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998.

Web sites

Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum. "Chinese-American Contribution to Transcontinental Railroad." 〈〉 (accessed June 25, 2006).

National Archives and Records Administration. "Chinese Immigration and the Chinese in the United States." 〈〉 (accessed June 25, 2006).